Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 10:49
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You are the salt of the earth (Mt 5:14a). You are the light of the world (Mt 5:13a). This is how Jesus describes Christians. It’s how he describes you, a follower of Christ. But what does it mean that you are salt? Many people try to explain this passage by examining the natural properties of salt. It can make bland food taste better, so is Jesus saying that Christians add spice to a humdrum world…? Salt can also be a preservative, so perhaps the presence of Christians helps to prevent destruction – just as the presence of ten righteous men would have forestalled God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Or, because salt was sometimes used as currency by the Roman army, Jesus may be telling us that we too are precious and valuable. But these ideas miss the point. In order to understand Scripture, we should begin not with natural explanations but with the words of Jesus.
Our text is from the Sermon on the Mount – immediately following the Beatitudes. In context it should be read like this: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:10-13a).
Jesus speaks of salt against the background of persecution. Just as the prophets were persecuted for speaking the Word of God to hostile kings and rebellious peoples, so you will be persecuted because you are salt to this world. In other words, you are not the salt that makes cold chicken taste better. You are the salt in an open wound. Our message is not, “Sprinkle a little Jesus on your life and everything will go better.” Instead, it’s the invitation to share in the suffering and death of Christ – and to those that are perishing this message stinks of death (2 Cor 2:16). Salt is corrosive. It’s an irritant. So naturally, wherever there is salt there will be outcry, anger, and persecution.
Being salt isn’t something you do. You don’t need to try to irritate people. Jesus isn’t telling us to be obnoxious jerks. He says, “You are the salt of the world.” This is a matter of identity. It’s who you are. You are salt. You are a Christian. You are baptized. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and his friend walked through the town of Vanity Fair and caused a riot. Why? Did they disturb the peace? Did they overturn tables and destroy merchandise? No. They were sentenced to death… because they looked different, they talked different, and especially because they didn’t buy anything.
It’s the same today. Christians speak a different language than the world. We have our own culture, our own values. By virtue of your baptism, as a member of the kingdom of God, you are an offense to this sinful world. When you lead a quiet and virtuous life, your very existence is a rebuke to the wicked. You are salt. You are light. It’s not enough that people have the legal freedom to live sexually reprobate lives. The ungodly demand that you, a Christian, approve of their sinful behavior. You must buy their goods. You must participate in the fair. Why? Because virtue reproves wickedness simply by existing – just as light reproves the darkness. You are, as Martin Luther says, a little Christ. You are the light of the world because you are joined to Christ who is the light of the world. You stand out. You are baptized. You are odd.
But your sinful nature doesn’t want to be odd. It’s no fun being hated. Who wants to be labeled a bigot for teaching God’s definition of marriage or a fundy for believing that every word of Scripture is true? What young woman wants to be called a prude for dressing modestly, or what man a prig for not participating in lewd conversation. Your old Adam would rather blend in. He wants to have a king like the other nations. He wants all the benefits of the Christian faith without its cross. He doesn’t want to be salt. What’s more, the pleasures of sin are enticing, and the wares of Vanity Fair are a delight to the eyes.
The world promises comfort, pleasures, and friendship, but at the cost of your saltiness. And so Jesus warns us, “If salt has been made saltless, by what will it be made salty? It is good for nothing except, having been cast outside, to be tread upon by men” (Mt 5:13b). Jesus’ warning should not be taken lightly. The Scriptures do not teach “once saved always saved.” Take heed, therefore, lest you fall. But how is it possible for salt to lose its saltiness? You became salt through the Word of God spoken to you in baptism. Though you were once darkness, you became light because you were joined to Christ who is the light. So then, to lose your saltiness or to hide your light under a basket is to despise the Word of God, to walk away from your baptism, to be outside of Christ. For apart from Christ and his Word, you have no salt, no light, and no salvation.
When Jesus speaks of being “cast outside” he’s talking about hell and we should be afraid. This is the kind of fear that is healthy and necessary for us Christians. We should fear the wrath of God. We should fear the lure of sin and the weakness of our fallen flesh. But proper fear always drives us to repentance and Christ. Yes, you should pray with David, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” You should fear lest your heart become complacent and hardened to the Word of God, but because of this you will run gladly to the place where that Word is taught in truth and purity. For where Christ is, where his Word is preached, there you will find the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
This is why Jesus warns against doing away with even one of the least of his commandments – because everything depends of the Word of God. Added to the water of baptism it washes away the old man and gives birth to the new. It joins you to Christ, to his cross, and to his resurrection. It makes you salt and light. It strengthens you to face the persecution of this world, and keeps you in the faith until death. Satan is always prowling around asking the same old question, “Did God really say?” He knows that our very life is bound up in the Word of God and he wants to destroy it in any way he can. He seeks to use the persecution of the world to cause you to be ashamed of Christ and his words, to start whittling away at those parts of Scripture that offend modern ears and make you stand out as a bright light. But our enemy cannot destroy God’s Word, for Jesus promises, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt 5:18).
This dying world will grow darker and darker. It will rage against the Light because its deeds are evil, but it cannot quench the risen Christ. It will mock the Word of God and all who hold fast to it, but the world and its ruler cannot harm you because are baptized. You are in Christ and nothing can take you out of his hand. You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Amen.